It’s been a hard-hitting few years for summer camps and Simonhouse Bible Camp is no exception, but with the help of some of our MB churches they are getting ready to dive into summer programs in 2023.
Simonhouse had to cancel their programs in 2020 and 2021 because of covid restrictions and had hoped to reopen this summer with restrictions lifted, but the stall in programs have left them short-staffed and in need of repairs on the facilities.
“Two major factors played into not having campers this year. The first was the lack of staff applying and the second were a number of projects that needed to be done to get the site useable again,” explained Simonhouse Executive Director, Darrell Janzen. “Covid has had quite the impact on camp these past few years, but we are committed and anxious to get back to our mission of ‘Pointing Lives to Jesus!’”
It’s not what Janzen expected this summer to look like but the remaining staff are working hard to make the most of this time.
“We hired Spencer Kristjanson from Winnipeg, who has worked several summers for us before, to be an on-site help and lead the various work groups that were scheduled to come up,” said Janzen. “Spencer was a great help and has a real heart for our ministry. Since he has worked for the camp before, he knows it well so he was able to keep things going, help lead the groups, and provided an extra set of hands.”
During the summer of 2020 the main dock deck and joists were obliterated and washed down the shoreline due to very high water and sustained winds. The camp’s smaller dock was completely lifted up and washed to the shore, and with the high waves crashing on the shoreline, the sand and rock were washed out.
“We are so fortunate to be on such a beautiful lake, and many of our activities revolve around it which meant that it needed to be repaired before camp could run again,” said Janzen.
Janzen was working on a repair plan when he received a call from a member of the La Salle Community Fellowship church. This individual owns roughly 10 acres of mature cedar trees and a small wood mill and offered to harvest, mill, and deliver the wood needed to rebuild the camp’s dock.
“They rebuilt the dock out of beautiful cedar which is far better for the environment and kids feet than treated lumber,” said Janzen. “ And the best part is it was all GIFTED! This would have been thousands of dollars of wood alone but the La Salle Community Fellowship church raised funds to cover the out of pocket expenses and took this task on as a group project. We are so grateful for everyone’s involvement to get us a new dock.”
In past years Dale Warkentine, from Friends Community Church in Carmen, has led a consistent group of volunteers from various towns in southern Manitoba to tackle some jobs and prepare the camp for summer. This year only a few could make it out, but they were a great help.
“One of the members is a diesel mechanic who was able to figure out our main generator problem and they were able to get most of the exterior siding finished on the new staff cabin,” shared Janzen. “We also had a volunteer weld up a new gate for our driveway which the group brought up and installed.”
Janzen added that the group also gave the kitchen a thorough cleaning which was much needed and appreciated.
“The group always gets in a little fishing while they are here and enjoy their time in the north,” Janzen said.
Another group from Fort Garry MB Church spent a week at the camp helping with a list of tasks around the camp. This included tackling blown down trees, painting cabins, resetting the smaller dock that had blown away, staining the chapel deck and picnic tables, and cleaning and organizing some of the rooms, along with many other tasks.
“Having these groups come out has made me feel a lot more comfortable that we’re in a good place,” said Darrell. “There is always so much that needs to be done at camp and even just managing the blown down trees alone takes a lot of work. The group had fun serving and definitely helped get a lot done to make us ready for the summer of 2023.”
Jesse Yoder led this group and said, aside from getting to help the camp, it was a unique opportunity to bring an intergenerational group together to connect and serve.
“It really felt like spending that week together up in the middle of nowhere, so detached from the comforts we enjoy at home, was bonding us as a group.” said Yoder. “Seeing how working together and serving together helped us build and grow those connections was amazing.”
Owen Peters, a 15 year old from FGMB, was one of those that joined the service trip. He had heard about Simonhouse through a youth leader at the church and was considering working there this summer before the programs were cancelled.
“The work trip was a really good way to get familiar with the camp and get to know the people there,” said Peters. “I felt like, yeah this is for me. I enjoyed it and would like to spend more time up there.”
He enjoyed the experience so much he is headed back to Simonhouse for a Discipleship week the camp put on for past and potential staff.
“To address the staffing issue and to start getting people excited about our ministry, we held the first ever Work & Leadership Training camp which was a combination of work tasks, team building, camp leadership training, etc. It was a great week and we had youth from AB, SK, and MB attend,” Janzen shared. “After the week, all of the youth expressed a desire to return next summer and hopefully they will get their friends to come as well.”
The week was led by Spencer Kristjanson, with the help of past staff Hanna Baynton (Flin Flon, MB) and Gillian Scott (Rocky Mountain House, AB) to assist.
“The ministry at Simonhouse is really important,” stressed Yoder. “There are lots of good camps and ministries but what happens at Simonhouse is different. It’s a cool ministry of helping people walk through really messy things in life and asking ‘how does faith look here?’”
Simonhouse is situated eight hours north of Winnipeg in a remote area so the camp services a lot of kids and communities that have never heard of Jesus and have no faith background. A high percentage of the campers come from foster care and other difficult life paths.
“Working here definitely has its challenges but it’s those challenges that staff feel are most rewarding and like they are doing something important.” said Janzen.
It’s crucial that every person has the opportunity to know and be known by Jesus. This is the work that Simonhouse Bible Camp is doing here in Manitoba and we encourage our churches to support the mission of this camp however possible.
“I hope sharing this story with other churches in the conference increases interest in support for Simonhouse,” said Yoder. “Whether that’s sending young people to work for the summer or sending a group on a service trip like this one.”
Simonhouse has opened their Team Portal for applications for 2023. You can find more information on their website.
“Please think of family or friends or people in your church who may be a good fit for our ministry, encourage them to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 204-687-3340,” encouraged Janzen. “Thank you for your prayers and support.”
*This story has been updated to include more details of the different groups that have contributed to helping Simonhouse this past summer. We want to acknowledge there are a number of churches and people who support Simonhouse and their seasonal improvements that may not be mentioned in this story but are a crucial help to this ministry. Thank you to everyone who has contributed their time, money, energy, and resources to this northern ministry over the years.